Bungo Stray Dogs
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 29 of
Bungo Stray Dogs (TV 3) ?
You may think that the most terrifying thing about the great Russian novels is their length or sheer number of characters, and in the real world, you could be right, but in Bungo Stray Dogs, the scariest thing about them is their author. At least, that's the case for Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, among other classics of the late 19th century. Other antagonists in the series have been alarming or clever, but over the space of this very strong episode, Dostoyevsky proves himself to be far more than those small words encompass. He's a master manipulator, and he's not without what he sees as compassion or mercy – what's scary is that he only sees death as the ultimate expression of both of those things, and as a compassionate and merciful man, he has no choice but to grant it to those he encounters. Dostoyevsky is operating by his own special moral code, and not only does he not care if it doesn't conform to yours, he has ways of making you believe in it, too.
All of this is further evidence of the fact that original series author Kafka Asagiri is well-versed in the works and lives of the authors who make up the characters in the story. In the case of Dostoyevsky, his group, Rats in the House of the Dead, is a reference to his semi-autobiographical tale of his time in a Siberian prison camp, House of the Dead, published in 1862. (It was serialized between 1860-62, but that's when the compiled edition came out.) Apart from being Leo Tolstoy's favorite Dostoyevsky work, the philosophical novel details the experiences and spiritual rebirth of its main character as he comes to understand the evils of incarceration and physical punishment as a tragedy for all of humanity and the countries that use them. This, coupled with the fact that Dostoyevsky was given a false execution in 1849 before being sent to Siberia, makes the character's stance that death is the ultimate mercy a reference to the distaste expressed for other modes of punishment. This is most clearly seen in the way Dostoyevsky treats the unnamed teenager who is a member of Ace's team – the boy is kind to him, tells him his hopes and terrible past history as a victim of first human trafficking and then Ace, is the last person left alive after Dostoyevsky has wiped out Ace's men (or rather, convinced them to wipe themselves out)…and is killed at the last. Any other character in this show, including Mori, would have offered the boy a second chance at life. Dostoyevsky thinks that the only true escape for him is death.
Ace himself may also be a reference to another of Dostoyevsky's works, specifically The Gambler, a short 1866 work published right after Crime and Punishment inspired by Dostoyevsky's own gambling addiction. (In fact, the novella was intended to pay off gambling debts.) Dostoyevsky's own preferred game was roulette, which we see potentially referenced in the card game he plays with Ace for his life, although of course he's really playing in order for Ace's – although Ace doesn't realize it, the moment he stepped into the room he was gambling for his life against Dostoyevsky's ability and intelligence, a sort of Russian roulette that his own overweening pride did not allow him to recognize.
Essentially Dostoyevsky himself is the embodiment of his most famous work: he sees crime and metes out punishment. That he clearly doesn't see himself as doing anything wrong is alarming, especially because he's going after all other ability users in Yokohama, both the Mafia and the Agency…and presumably the remains of the Guild as well. That he's teamed up with Nathaniel Hawthorne, as we saw at the end of season two, feels like a reference to the punishment dealt out in The Scarlet Letter to Hester Prynne, or rather, the self-satisfaction of those who inflicted it, as Dostoyevsky himself is at risk of becoming just such a character.
Sometimes a good villain can really make a show. Bungo Stray Dogs is perfectly good on its own, but Dostoyevsky might just be the character it needs to be even better.
Bungo Stray Dogs is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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